Spooks: The Greater Good (MI-5) film locations | 2015
The long-running TV series Spooks (MI5 in the US) has an unusually high death rate among its characters, so few of its stars make it to the big screen, but Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) is vital.
Much of the plot is now overfamiliar, with Middle Eastern terrorists planning attacks in the UK capital, but there’s a fast pace, some suspenseful set pieces and a hard edge that save the film.
It’s mostly set in London, though the prominent credit acknowledging Isle of Man Film gives a hint as to where some of the locations may be found.
The opening sequence, of high-value prisoner Qasim (Elyes Gabel) being sprung from a convoy, supposedly on London’s M4, was filmed on the ring road of Coventry in the West Midlands, underneath the exit to Junction 2 near Hillfields.
The loss of such a key figure results in a major from grace for MI5 chief Pearce, who takes the blame for the debacle.
For most of the TV series the MI5 HQ was Freemason’s Hall in Covent Garden, but the film uses (the exterior of) MI5’s real centre, Thames House, on Millbank at Lambeth Bridge, south of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. MI5 represents the UK’s homeland intelligence; MI6 familiar from the Bond movies deals with overseas threats. If you were wondering, MIs 1 to 4 were not predecessors but other government departments which have since been absorbed.
The despondent Pearce exits the building and strolls onto Lambeth Bridge, from which he seems to disappear. The Bridge is having a period of popularity onscreen of late. You might remember the triple-decker Knight Bus roaring across it in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban and, more recently, it was surrounded by a smattering of CGI onion domes to become ‘Moscow’ for the opening scene of of Fast And Furious 6 (the MI5 building can be glimpsed briefly as a forbidding ‘Russian’ office block).
When sacked agent Will Holloway (Kit Harington) is recalled from ‘Moscow’ to help find the missing Pearce, the ‘Whitehall’ government office to which he’s summoned by high-ups Mace (Tim McInnerny), Warrender (David Harewood) and Maltby (Jennifer Ehle), is the Athenaeum Club, 107 Pall Mall – though its grand entrance is on the northwest corner of Waterloo Place, SW1.
The Athenaeum is one of the more conservative gentlemen’s clubs of London, offering virtually automatic membership to the Speaker of the House of Commons, cabinet ministers, bishops, judges and other such pillars of the establishment, this august institution has previously been featured in Mathew Vaughn’s Layer Cake, biopic Wilde, gung-ho 1982 SAS actioner Who Dares Wins and David Drury’s 1985 dark paranoia thriller Defence of the Realm, as well as Lindsay Anderson’s anarchic O Lucky Man!
Pearce is, of course, not lying at the bottom of the Thames but has found his way to the ‘Kent Coast’ hideout of Qasim and his crew. The cliffs and abandoned buildings atop them are not on England’s South Coast at all, but at Scarlett, on the Isle Of Man.
Pearce’s mission is to set up a risky deal with Qasim, to reunite him with his wife in return for information about the identity of the senior MI5 mole who must have facilitated his escape.
Pearce contacts Holloway with a postcard bearing the enigmatic image of a man carrying an umbrella, which Holloway eventually interprets as a pointer to then old-fashioned umbrella shop used as an MI5 contact point.
The store is the venerable James Smith & Sons, Hazelwood House, 53 New Oxford Street, just east of Tottenham Court Road. This wonderfully unmodernised premises has for years been crying out to be used as a film location and finally gets its moment of screen fame when Holloway picks up the brolley bearing Pearce’s contact details.
He’s led to a meeting with Pearce at the, relatively, new Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport, where he’s informed that a high level of MI5 has been compromised and no one is to be trusted.
One suspect is quickly ruled out when a suicide bomb attack on a NATO gala at the ‘Albery Theatre’ kills Warrender. There’s an understandable nervousness about depicting terrorism targets on screen, so the location of the theatre is left deliberately ambiguous. The Albery, now renamed the Noël Coward Theatre, stands on St Martin’s Lane, behind Leicester Square tube station, but the explosion seen in the film takes out currently empty buildings on Shaftesbury Avenue, the heart of the West End’s theatreland, between the Gielgud and the Queens Theatres.
The gorgeously lush theatre interior, though, is that of the Gaiety Theatre, on the Douglas Promenade, Douglas, Isle Of Man. Designed by famed theatre architect Frank Matcham – responsible for many of London’s West End theatres – the Gaiety opened in 1900, and has been beautifully restored. Even if you don’t see a show here, there are tours of the building throughout the summer season, or during the winter by arrangement.
Pearce manages to download MI5’s archive from an internet café on Electric Avenue in Brixton, South London, before making off to Berlin.
Implicated in the hack, Holloway is drugged and wakes to find himself handcuffed and being driven through the streets around Fenchurch Street Station. He manages to free himself and escape on the wonderfully named Crutched Friars, EC3 (the name comes from the religious order Fratres Cruciferi – Brothers of the Cross).
Holloway is soon in Germany, on the trail of Pearce, meeting up with him on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, alongside the huge railway station.
The abandoned and decrepit hotel, in which a little more of the convoluted truth emerges, isn’t Germany but the Isle Of Man again. It’s the Castle Mona Hotel, half a mile north of Douglas, which in truth really is in a sorry rundown state.
It’s immediately back to Berlin for the elaborately turreted and vaulted Oberbaumbrücke in the far east of the city, a pre-Wende crossing point into East Berlin (U-bahn: Schlesisches Tor or U-bahn-S-bahn: Warschauer Strasse), the bridge on which Pearce begins to open up to Holloway about the mysterious death of his father. You may recognize the striking bridge if you saw Tom Tykwer’s Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run), with Franka Potente.
Pearce sets up a meeting to reunite Qasim with his wife on another bridge, Waterloo Bridge in London.
The problem is that Qasim’s wife is already dead and the suspicious terrorist has a sniper covering the meeting place from the concrete terraces of the National Theatre on the South Bank, SE1 at the southern end of the bridge.
The National’s purpose built complex of three theatres opened in 1976 to a storm of controversy over its brutalist concrete exterior (the NT had been formerly housed in the nearby and very traditional Old Vic Theatre).
After the final shootout and the revelation of Pearce’s master plan, there’s a quiet coda as Pearce settles one last score in an elegant house overlooking the peaceful harbour at Castletown, Isle Of Man.